The average American life expectancy is 78 years -- and since we know that dental care plays a substantial role in overall health, it makes perfect sense that you'd want to prioritize it. Unfortunately, dental treatment can also be prohibitively expensive. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, around 74 million Americans didn't have dental insurance coverage in 2016. And if you have to pay out-of-pocket for dental procedures or are responsible for footing the cost of dental insurance completely on your own, it's no wonder why you might be hesitant to make a dental appointment for yourself or your kids.
But while there's no denying that dental visits may not always be the most affordable, they're critical to overall health. If your family is on a strict budget or you're looking for some simple ways to cut costs while still maintaining healthy habits, here are just a few smart ways you may be able to save money on dental care for everyone in your household.
Ask About Payment Plans
You might feel a bit embarrassed to tell your dentist you can't afford to pay for services in-full at your appointment. But this scenario is much more common than many people realize. Rather than use a credit card and rack up interest rates, talk to your dentist about whether they might allow you to pay for a more expensive procedure or treatment in installments. Around 47% of Invisalign users say they experience a self-esteem boost during treatment -- and if you can find an affordable way for your teenager to achieve straight teeth without having a massive payment looming over your head, all the better. Not every dentist will offer payment plans (and some costs may not be eligible for them), but it never hurts to ask.
Visit a Dental School
If you don't have dental insurance or your regular dentist isn't within your insurance network, resist the urge to skip your next appointment. Instead, seek out care at a local dental school. The work will be performed either by supervised students or instructors, but as long as the school is accredited, this can actually be a great option. Many of these schools offer deeply discounted services or even free treatments. Just be aware that appointments at dental schools tend to go quickly, so be sure to plan ahead (especially if they're hosting an event).
Focus on Preventative Care
One of the best things you can do to make dental costs more reasonable is to make sure everyone in your family is brushing and flossing properly. While it may sound simple, it really is one of the best ways to prevent issues like plaque and decay. And if your family can stay cavity-free and reduce the risk of gingivitis, you could potentially save quite a bit on dental costs. Of course, it's important for people of all ages to get regular dental checkups every six months. If money is tight, it may be tempting to skip those visits -- but they may very well keep costs down in the long run. The sooner your dentist is able to detect issues, the more effectively (and affordably) they'll be able to be corrected.
Try an HSA, FSA, or Dental Discount Plan
If you do have dental insurance but have a high deductible, you might be able to set up a health savings account (HSA) during open enrollment. Since you'd have a lower premium, this can allow you to put some money away in your HSA to use for medical and dental treatments. Not all dental procedures will qualify, but it can definitely help. A flexible savings account (FSA) can be another good option that will allow you to spend pre-taxed money you earn at work on certain dental expenses. Should your employer not offer dental insurance or if you can't afford it, you may want to look into a dental discount plan. By paying a small annual fee, you can visit dentists within a specific network to receive discounted services.
Make Your Budget Known
Money may be a gauche topic in some circles, but there's no shame in letting your dentist know that certain procedures simply aren't in your budget. In some cases, your dentist may say that you can put off a service -- like X-rays or fluoride treatments -- until the next visit if they aren't in the cards. If you mention your budget, you may find out that your dentist is running special. But unless you ask, you might not know. While you may not always be able to skip essential treatments, it's a good idea to let your dentist know what you're working with so that they can better serve your needs.
Most of us know that excellent dental care is vital to overall health. But too often, American families are going without oral treatment due to cost concerns. With these tips in mind, you can make dental expenditures more manageable and ensure your loved ones receive the treatment they need.